There are no legal requirements for declining a job offer*. Rather, the only requirements for declining a job offer are courtesy and professionalism. Below, I will discuss what to know and how to decline a job offer and I will also provide an example/template/sample letter declining a job offer.
Why You Should Decline A Job Offer
1. Primarily, you should decline a job offer if you have concerns regarding the proposed pay and benefits. You may have applied for the job without knowing the compensation (most companies hide this information until an offer is made). When you get the offer, you may be surprised to learn the salary is not competitive.
Your income is the number one most important thing for your career. You work to make money. You deserve a nice lifestyle and a solid income to support it. You are a smart, capable worker with years of experience and good education who will add value to any company. You should only work somewhere where you will be paid a competitive wage.
Do not accept a job with a comparatively low wage even if the company promises to “review” your pay soon. Many companies promise the moon but fail to deliver. Do not expect a meaningful raise when they cannot pay the right amount right off the bat.
2. Next, you may be inclined to decline a job offer if you noticed a few red flags about working there. Job offer red flags include:
- They say or imply there is high turnover.
- You were not impressed with the staff members you met.
- There is an unrealistic job description.
- You felt disrespected during the application stages.
- Pressure to accept the job offer within a very short time frame.
- If the job is described as “fast-paced”, this means you will be overworked.
- If the requirement of you is to be a “ninja” or a “rock star”, this means you will be overworked.
- If it is a sales job, and the job description is vague, this could be a scummy role. A bigger red flag is if they do not tell you what product or service they sell. Run!
- If you are asked to “wear many hats”, this means you will be overworked.
- If the company has low-scored reviews on Indeed/Glassdoor/Google or obviously fake positive reviews on the same sites.
- If the company asks for money or for you to buy something, this could be a pyramid scheme or a very cheap employer.
- If you received a job offer the same day that you applied, it could be a sign the company is desperate because of high turnover.
3. Next, consider declining a job offer if the company seems like the right fit, but you suspect you will hate your job.
Fresh out of law school and before I finished articling, I once had an interview with a very large brick and mortar retailer as an in-house lawyer. I thought this would be a great company to start a career at, and the pay was competitive. However, I rejected them before they could offer me a job after I drove out to the office for an interview. The office was in a very rural suburban area, almost a 1.25 hour commute from my house downtown, and the office seemed so cold and “Office Space”-like. I felt like I would hate coming to work after a few weeks. I’m sure it was a good job for some people, but not for me. I decided to hold out to find something better for me.
Around the same time, I applied for a job as an in-house lawyer at a very large online retailer, in their HR department, but it turned out it was for their warehouse office, not their corporate office, and that this exact role was repeatedly negatively reviewed on Glassdoor. I also discovered this exact job was constantly advertised on Indeed, indicating a troubling turnover rate. Apparently, from what I read online, it is miserable at this company’s warehouses’ HR departments. I decided to pull my application. Again, with respect, I’m sure it was an excellent job for some people, but not for me.
4. Review the offer for any overly-onerous terms and conditions in your contract. For example, there may be a poor termination clause or a non-compete obligation that would hurt you if you got a better job a few years later. Also, if you are leaving one job to take a new one, consider what common law rights you are giving up from your old job to take the new one. You may have built up hundreds of thousands of dollars of severance eligibility that you will walk away from for little to no protection rights if your new job fizzles out. Sometimes the grass is not greener.
I once had someone contact our firm who had years of experience and vesting equity at a prosperous major tech company, who left his job for a start-up, only to resign months later because it turned out the new company mislead him about his compensation. However, had he reviewed the offer more closely, he could have learned that the new job was not what he had expected, and he probably would have declined it and stayed at the old company had he known.
Alternatively, consider making a counter-offer to the offer if you don’t like it. You are free to counter-offer anything you want, and I would encourage it for all job-seekers. Countless self-help gurus often repeat that getting what you want in a career requires that you speak up for yourself and flex your bargaining power. However, be aware that once you make a counter-offer of any sort, the company can pull the original offer. Only make a counter-offer if you are prepared to lose the original offer.
How To Decline A Job Offer
To decline a job offer, write a short email letting the employer know that you have declined the job offer.
It is always best to put important decisions like this in writing to avoid any doubt, protect yourself and appear more professional.
I am not inclined to recommend anyone call the employer to reject them. For one, putting it in writing is always the safest option. Second, phone calls can become awkward or go off the rails. Third, who knows if the company would have extended you the same courtesy of a phone call in case they rejected you. Probably not, in my experience.
In your email, simply thank the company for the opportunity and the offer, and apologize with regret that you will be declining the offer.
Be sure to come across as appreciative and professional to not burn any bridges if you want to apply for a different job at the same company down the road. Further, word travels in local industries, so the hiring manager should not be left with a negative anecdote about you that they could spread around through the usual gossip lines.
Not to mention, it is just the right thing to do to be thankful and somewhat apologetic. The person on the other side could be frustrated after a lot of work recruiting, interviewing and making an offer to you, so it is a best practice to make them feel better.
Also, wish the hiring manager good luck in finding another suitable candidate.
You do not have to provide a reason for rejecting the job.
Lastly, ensure that your rejection of the offer is timely. Do not leave the company hanging for an unreasonably long time. Leaving the offer on the table for an unreasonably long time and then turning it down can leave a sour taste because that is time that could have been spent working on recruiting, interviewing and making an offer to the next candidate.
Sample Template for a Letter Declining a Job
Dear Hiring Manager,
Thank you for the offer, and thank you kindly for taking the time to review my suitability with the company.
It was a pleasure to meet you. I very much enjoyed discussing the opportunity with you.
However, unfortunately, with regret, I would decline the offer.
I am sorry for any trouble this may cause you or the company.
Please keep me in mind should any other job opportunity that matches my resume become available.
Thank you again. I wish you and the company good luck in the future.
*Legal Issues When Declining a Job Offer
Even though I said above that there are no legal requirements for declining a job, you should be aware of potentially three legal issues that could be raised if you decline a job offer and then change your mind.
1. If you reject a job offer, you have no right to change your mind and demand that the employer offer you the job once again. Once an offer is rejected, it is void, and the offeror can walk away without any liability to the offeree.
2. If you accept a job offer but change your mind and want to quit/decline the offer, you may be liable for “wrongful resignation”.
3. Be clear that you are rejecting the job offer if you decide to decline it. Do not make it vague or ambiguous that you have declined the job offer because it could be that your actions have instead demonstrated that you have accepted the job. In that way, legally, if a “reasonable person” were to look at the situation and determine your behaviour indicated you accepted rather than declined the job, then you have formed an employment contract. You are now liable for breach of that contract.
Read More: How to Accept a Job Offer
Jeff is a lawyer in Toronto who works for a technology startup. Jeff is a frequent lecturer on employment law and is the author of an employment law textbook and various trade journal articles. Jeff is interested in Canadian business, technology and law, and this blog is his platform to share his views and tips in those areas.